Saturday, September 6, 2014


We humans are so adaptable! – yesterday I talked with an ex student of mine in Niles (the part of Fremont where we live) ) who is Vietnamese.  Afterwards,  I marveled over how it is most likely that his grandparents probably came to America at the end of the Vietnamese war – perhaps even as ‘boat people’ refuges – and now he is an electrical engineer,  a graduate of a major California University working in product design– confident, perfect English skills, creative in his job. Quite amazing! He carries his grandparents genes but he has become himself.

San Francisco Chinatown - First American home to many
Then I thought of my own history – my grandparents came from a Czech enclave in what is today the Ukraine… farmers who still used a horse drawn plow, harvested their grain with a sickle. And in two generations I have a career teaching modern Biological concepts,  and now, work training new science and math teachers.  I drive a nice car, have travelled extensively, and am comfortable navigating the internet.  I carry my grandparents genes but I have developed into someone with a very different identity.

Farming in my grandparents day
There are many places in the world where the life and experience of a person is in fact much like the life and experience of their grandparents.  Often the son and grandson practiced the same craft or work learned from the parent.  It is still common in many parts of the world to see farmers today plowing with oxen, with a heavy wooden plow,  as has been practiced for generations. The crafts of woodworking, metal smith, potters, jewelry makers are traditionally passed on. 

A traditional culture of Masai in Tanzania - now facing change...
I like the German word 'zeitgeist'- ‘the spirit of the time‘.  The word refers to the pattern of thought   typical of the culture during a particular period of time.  Think how our way of seeing the world and human relationships is different now and during the time of Victorian England.  I suppose that there is a different 'spirit of the time' in every cultural location on earth.  If you live in the rainforest of Ecuador, with no contact with the outside world, the zeitgeist is constant over many generations – but if you live in Silicon Valley it changes yearly or even more frequently . 

A Zapotec village in Mexico where the zeitgeist has changed little
This makes me ponder that we don't inherit who we are – but it is learned from our environment or choosen.  I was born and raised in Northeastern Kansas and from my teen years lived in California.  If I had continued my development within the cultural context of Kansas I would be a different person today than the person who grew up influenced by the cultural context of California.  One is not better or worse - only different.  Strange to think who I might have been with different influences.

My hometown in Delia - our family farm was just down the road and through the woods
Our identity, who we are, is largely influenced  by our social and cultural surroundings.  It’s amazing and a little scary to think how malleably the person we are is formed…and continues to change as we adapt to new ideas in our environment

My science training changed my world view
So – is there a core ‘person’ who doesn’t change…?  Most people carry a memory of who they were growing up. For some, change from an unproductive childhood, brings freedom and a new life – there is no desire to turn back.  For others an epiphany gives a new direction and new vision for a richer life. Even those who grow up in a rich happy childhood often change appreciably due to the influences that unfold in their lives.  So I am left to believe that who I am today is partly due to my changing zeitgeist and partly due to chioices that I make. 
Mills College, Oakland - What I have learned here working with new teachers has changed me!

I am currently reading a book on Peter the Great - which I highly recommend!  It is a wonderful book! Among other things it tells about how one autocrat changed the entire culture of Russia in 1700 from a medieval mindset into a more European viewpoint.  The people resisted but he insisted.  Through history there have been others. Kemel Attiturk in Turkey did the same.  Look at the cultural revolution in China for another example. Currently in the Arab Middle East we are viewing a confusion over identify - between returning to traditional cultural roots or moving forward...stay tuned to see how it turns out...

Pre revolution China - China is now one of the leading producers of goods for the world

In our country we have a somewhat similar national conversation at the moment - between accepting and utilizing the knowledge of science, psychology, and sociology ... and  moving on  ...  or attempting  to hold on to the world view of the past.  The past is known and comfortable to many - while adapting to the  new unknown...  involves risk, change, and new world views.  One leads to life the other leads to stagnation.